The Music Police

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(Pictured: Charlie Daniels, on the right, at Volunteer Jam in 1980.)

As I wrote last week, I got a lot of hate-comments on my World’s Worst Songs posts at Popdose, when I wrote there a few years ago. One that upset many was about “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” by the Charlie Daniels Band. Like “Taxi,” this extremely minor 1980 hit offended me because it aspired to tell a story but then didn’t bother.

Something bad is going on out there, way back in Booger Woods: “they say the ghost of Lucius Clay gets up and he walks around.” He does not materialize, neither does he creep—he merely gets up and walks around, like he was a coronary bypass patient on the second day. Clay was a greedy old man who kept his money in Mason jars, except “on certain nights if the moon was right / He’d dig it up out of the ground / He’d pour it all out on the floor of his shack / And he’d run his fingers through it.” . . . 

Some local boys try to steal the money and end up sucked into the swamp for all eternity, but the story is told in such a dull manner that it’s barely worth caring about.

Ultimately, “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” is remarkably lazy. If it were a creative essay in a high-school English class, it would get red-penciled: “needs more vivid detail.” In a more advanced class, the note might be, “lacks narrative drive.” It’s a first draft that got handed in when the assignment was due.

And people got Big Mad:

IF U DONT LIKE IT,THEN DONT LISTEN IT !!! WHO THE HELL R U , THE MUSIC POLICE , YOUR AN IDIOT AND AN ASS (prolly a yankee asswell!!!)

Well, as a matter of fact, I am the Music Police: Officer Yankee Asswell, at your service.

While I respect the fact that you don’t like the song. This condescending article does almost nothing to prove it’s “one of the worst.” And this is not just some ignorant listener who’ll buy into anything with some kind of southern accent. I know a good deal about music and storytelling.

Well if you say so, it must be true.

And anyway, it’s an interesting contrast that he understates these strange happenings. It would be a cliche if the ghost “materialized and crept around.” If he “gets up and walks around” we get a vague image, yes, but we get an image of both a the story and the narrator. We know he’s not going into much detail, and we feel like there’s a reason.

So, better writing through weaker metaphors, then? Next:

its a hell of a story and verywell written and composed.if you can do better id like to hear it. . . . 

Anybody who writes about music anywhere is going to get this from time to time: “Can you write a song?” I cannot. But you don’t have to be the cook to know when dinner was a flop.

Next: people want to figure out what it is about you that makes you so wrong:

Maybe if you weren’t a city-raised millenial, you might understand.

I was raised on a dairy farm, jack, and I’ll bet I’m older than you. No really, I am:

You pussies weren’t even born then anyway. CDB was not Southern rock. .38 Special, Molly Hatchet, LS, Allman Bros. were Southern Rock. I would suggest you look for some of the CDB concerts called Volunteer Jam to see what different styles of music we listened to before PC bullshit came along and destroyed music.

“CDB was not southern rock”? Charlie Daniels himself would have disagreed with that. And even though Daniels consistently outed himself on social media as a horrid right-wing bigot, I didn’t say one damn thing about his politics. Yet this commenter decided to defend him on those grounds anyhow.

Will say again: “what about”-ism is the lowest form of argument, but lots of folks think it’s persuasive:

Coming from a site called POP DOSE, and you people care what they think about a southern rock/country rock song? LOL I don’t believe they have the right to call anything lazy giving the state of rap and pop music. It gets far far worse than this song! For those who wont even listen to the song, at the point you opinion is invalid because it’s uneducated!

What’s most interesting about that last comment (beyond its borderline illiteracy) is when it was posted: in November 2020, eight years after the original post appeared. It’s so good to hear from my readers in a timely fashion.

10 thoughts on “The Music Police

  1. mikehagerty

    Suddenly, I feel a lot better about the very low level of response and engagement my car reviews seem to inspire…

  2. Chris Herman

    “Wooley Swamp” is pretty undeveloped as story songs go but not as much as Andrew Gold’s “Lonely Boy” which always seemed to me like it was missing a verse. (FTR, I don’t like that song either.) Anyway, what is a good story song? I think that could be an interesting topic for discussion.

  3. Great idea. “Ode to Billie Joe” would be #1 on my list. “Hotel California” is another one that comes to mind immediately. Clarence Carter’s “Patches” also.

    1. mikehagerty

      Not that I ever need to hear it again, but “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” is a pretty solid story.

    2. mackdaddyg

      How about “Taxi” by Harry Chapin?

      Just kidding.

      I agree “Ode to Billie Joe” is an astounding bit of writing. The subtle way you discover how the storyteller is processing this information is downright amazing.

    3. Wesley

      Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby” holds up better than most of her other hits due to its intriguing storyline, in my opinion.

  4. Scott Paton

    But then, JB, our stark reality of the past few years has made it abundantly clear that a significant number of our fellow citizens, truly, are mo-rons! (Hyphenated intentionally.)

  5. Chris Herman

    There are numerous Dylan songs I could submit for this category. I’ll limit myself to “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Hurricane,” and “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.”

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